One of the people I follow on twitter posed an interesting question. What would happen if there was free broadband wireless all over Europe. I sent them my 140 character answer but felt really unsatisfied by that. I'm going to devote some blog space to it over the next few days because I think that there would be a lot of changes. I'm going to break this into a few section. I haven't worked out all of them but there will be government, business, computing and social changes. This structure loosely follows some of the structure within Lawrence Lessig's Code 2.0. He also argued there were four structures that impact community building on the internet. It is written in the US context, but can be applied in other countries.
I'm going to start with Governmental changes.
One of the first things that will happen will be further encroachments on the ability for users to be anonymous and use pseudonyms online. Initially the requirement to login will be used to track which areas have the highest user rates and things like that, but this could be an incredibly powerful tool to prevent copyright abuse from users of the network. IP addresses would go out the window as an enforcement tool of nearly any online abuses. For instance, the safest place to download a movie from the internet would be on the train. You'd be changing IP addresses frequently and it would be very difficult to track a single user from one IP address to the next.
To deal with these problems there would have to be strict oversight to protect users of the network from invasions of privacy from the government and third party users of the network. Currently, the US government has a significantly heavy hand in collecting data from ISPs, Cloud data and social networking data. This includes both European and US data. This would need to be prevented.
Paying for and managing this network would need to be determined as well. One route could be to put a tax on advertisements that are displayed in a IP address range. Since IPs are distributed through regions this would be technically possible. Google just announced they made $9.7 Billion and nearly all of that is from ads (99% was from ad revenue in 2008). Putting a modest tax on this revenue will help pay for this network. Assuming that this infrastructure would need to be rolled out and continually upgraded I would expect at least $2-3 billion annual investment is required. I'm basing this on how much Verizon Wireless and AT&T invest in their network annually. This of course would change based on the amount of capacity required (a lot) and what technology used (WIFI, Wi-Max, LTE) for the network.
Since, this will effectively kill the business model of the telecoms, like T-mobile and KPN, they could be used to help manage the network. Governments and the like aren't the best at managing these networks these old companies would be the best suited to manage it. That or create an organization that is based on former employees.
Finally, the network would have to be net neutral. Otherwise, it would effectively be government censorship if there was a reduction in access to any portion of the web. This means that the internet would be free as in free beer and free as in free speech. This would ensure the most positive results from the free internet on the business side and improve ability of users to participate in democracy.
Biggest changes? Management of the network, increased privacy concerns, paying for the network and copyright owners influence on data controls.
Part II Business
In my previous blog I discussed some governmental issues with ubiquitous free high speed wireless internet. In this piece I'm going to discuss the impact on businesses. I'll start with some really obvious impacts and then move into some that may be more interesting.
First, this would effectively kill the current business model for telecoms. Not just internet providers but it would also have a massive impact on telephony and television providers. Internet providers would basically go out of business unless the governments that implemented the network hired them to manage the networks and perform the upgrades required to ensure expected performance. It should also be expected that net neutrality should be the norm as the internet is free as in free beer and as in free speech in a situation like this. This would impact telephony in a similar manner. With free internet phones could be designed to work on wifi (or whatever the network type is) and use services like Google Voice (which is popular in the US and free). These services provide a telephone number as well. Further more skype communication or similar type programs could become the norm as they are free and easy to use. The impact on television would be a continuation of the current system. With Netflix and Hulu driving usage to the web. Without easy access pirating will be the norm and extremely easy.
In the US Starbucks is extremely popular for two reasons, gigantic flavored coffees and free wireless internet. I think in the Dutch context free wireless internet would spur an increase in the amount of business meetings that happen at cafes. With the slow service which is designed to encourage conversation and being social, it would be a great way to work remotely from outside of home. As it stands there aren't that many places, at least in Eindhoven, that have wireless internet like that. I think it will spur sales at restaurants.
The broadband movement is already increasing the number of people that can work from home and be educated at home. I think there will be some differences though. Mostly because of the freedom that is allowed with the wireless connections. You are able to connect everywhere and anywhere. I think this will create more flexible schedules. I'd be able to work nearly as easily on a train as I would be able to in the office. I would be able to get on a train at the time I'm supposed to be at work get there for some meetings and finish up around the same time just on the train.
I think that there will be more business models based on highly interactive advertisements and user driven actions out in the "wild." I've seen a lot of the QR codes outside of buildings as it is, but I think there will be an increase in the number of these. Users will be more willing to activate them because they are going to get the data from them significantly faster than previously. This will drive traffic to these sites and potentially new jobs from the different types of videos/ads that could be created with them.
I think this will also be something of a technological discontinuity. Broadband at home encourages one type of behavior, but I think there will be very different interactions with broadband everywhere. In the long term there could be a slew of different devices that will take advantage of the continual connections. Clothing could be that could measure the current weather conditions real time which could be uploaded to get real time weather information. We could collect data at levels we've never seen it before. This is just one usage of the informational sphere we'll be living in. There will be a huge number of new applications that will radically shift the way people think about knowledge, information and computing products. Predicting the next wave of technologies based on the wireless web is difficult. It's likely to be impossible.
Part III Computing
In my last two blogs, Government and Business, I've discussed some of the impacts on our society of ubiquitous high speed wireless internet. In this post I'll look at the future of the computing industry. I think that this industry will go one of two ways, or perhaps both at the same time. The first route is obvious and is already happening, the second route will probably begin as a backlash to the first route.
The obvious route is cloud computing. As I've said we're already going down this route. The best example of the speed of this transformation is the Amazon Kindle Fire (all three different links). Basically, we will be using less powerful, but still growing in abilities, equipment and pushing the more processor intensive applications out onto a server in the cloud. This will most likely be owned by some private organization. Amazon's Fire is a great example of this because it provides the ability to browse websites at a much faster rate than what's allowed under current network speeds. Even with high speed internet this may continue because it'll fit the website to your screen and make it even faster than over the high speed network.
However, many people are skeptical of cloud computing. There is a sense of a loss of ownership. You become locked in to a specific firm to provide the required services. End User license agreements change frequently and your true ownership of the data and information you place on their servers can change unexpectedly and in ways that aren't in the favor of the users. Additionally, it's been acknowledged by both Google and Microsoftthat all data in their cloud servers are subject to the US Patriot Act. This raises privacy concerns for the EU and firms using cloud services.
I think that these concerns will drive another type of cloud computing. I think it'll be something like a personal cloud. It will be similar to working with both a desktop and a laptop at the same time and remoting into the desktop from the laptop, but it will be done seamlessly and transparently. The ownership of the data will be clearly yours and the power will effectively take a phone or low power table and turn it into a fully powered desktop computer. This way the cloud won't be out there and will be easily controlled by the end user. You don't have to worry about the Patriot Act or a company going under, changing rates and other issues like that.
Both of these changes will create disruptive changes within the computing industry. The Kindle Fire is on the cutting edge of this. I fully expect Amazon to create additional applications that will run on the Amazon cloud system. There's no reason not to expect this. It will shift how apps are developed. It will also change who is in the game of creating computers. Dell, for example, will continue to have a major hold over both servers and personal computers, however as we move away from laptops to tablets and phones over time Dell is going to fail in this market. They have been unsuccessful at every attempt to enter these markets. There will be a shift in the players in the market.
These systems will only work with ubiquitous internet connection. They will become more effective as the network speed and capacity increases. Users will become more willing to use the systems as the reliability of the systems increase.
In my opinion these changes will fundamentally change the way that we look at computers. The way we interact with computers and how we feel about the usage of computers. Today they are everywhere, but in the next few years I expect them to become more prevalent as we are able to offload high power demanding applications off of our phones and onto powerful servers.
Part IV Societal
This is the last post I discussed the impact on the computing industry of ubiquitous high speed free wireless internet. In this post I'll discuss some of the societal changes. In some ways the societal changes may be smaller, at first, than we'd anticipate.
First, we've seen how much people have jumped on playing with their phones in public spaces. I fully expect this trend to continue and in fact to increase. Simple to play games like Angry Birds will become more advanced and will likely look better. People will do more work on their phones and will likely begin using video calls in public. Which will be annoying, but it's going to happen.
There may be a wave of apps that will try to increase the amount of social interaction of players. This doesn't mean that we'll have an increase of in person social interaction, but will likely be an increase of virtual social interaction. Which for some people is significantly better than what would happen otherwise.
I think that the ubiquitous internet will have a mixed impact on the ability to do work. As it is a lot of people already spend a great deal of time working from home off the clock. This will likely increase, but I think there will be a trade off. As people will, hopefully, be able to work while commuting more easily on trains and buses. People will begin to work in more places like cafes compared to the amount that currently do.
There will be other changes as new devices and applications are created to take advantage of the high speed internet. Many of these changes will happen as these devices are developed.
I would like to be completely optimistic that the greater the amount of internet will lead to a larger amount of user created content. That the increase of wireless internet will increase personal engagement in political and social activities, but I don't think it will. I think that there will be a small increase because there will be a larger number of people that weren't able to do it before are able to do it.
I think that a high percentage of engagement in social networks, content creation and other types of engagement will take some time to occur. I think it's because of a mind set. A lot of people have no desire to become involved in these types of things. I would like to imagine that these changes will happen over night. However they will not. People will need time to understand how to exploit this infrastructure. It will take time for unique social experiments to develop using the network. Some people will understand immediately how to create new tools for the new environment, but it will take many established firms time to fully exploit it.
It will also take people time to adapt to the change. It's not obvious in what ways the average user will exploit this technology. In many ways it will just increase the amount of general web browsing going on, in other ways video viewing will increase as well.
In this series I've looked at how our government, business, computer and social environments will change based on ubiquitous free wireless internet. It will have immediate changes and longer term changes that currently fall into the realm of science fiction. Device makers and app developers will have a new world to exploit because of increases in computing power locally and remotely. Creating novel methods of using this power is what will drive the next phase in our economy.